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Physics I is a first-year, first-semester course at MIT. Students usually take this course at the same time as 18.01 Single Variable Calculus.  

This course is ideal for motivated high school students, college students, and anyone interested in learning the basics of physics.

Course Overview

Physics I is an introduction to Classical Mechanics. The noun “mechanics” here refers to the motion of objects: we will study how the motion of an object can be understood and predicted in terms of the forces that are acting on the object. The adjective “classical,” in this context, means that we will restrict our study to speeds that are slow compared to the speed of light, so we will not have to take into account the effects of relativity. It also means that we will restrict our study to objects which are generally large, compared to atoms or molecules, so that we will not need to consider the effects of quantum theory. Fortunately, almost any situation we are likely to meet in everyday life satisfies these restrictions, so the results of classical mechanics have a wide variety of applications in science and engineering.

Course Goals

The overall goal of this course is to convey the excitement of the physicist's quest to understand nature at its deepest level, and at the same time to provide the knowledge and tools that you will need to continue your studies in science or engineering.

There are three main reasons why the study of Classical Mechanics important, one obvious and two more subtle.

  1. The physical laws and principles you will learn, and the methods of applying them to practical problems, are important and relevant in many other fields. A civil engineer designing a bridge, an automobile designer laying out the specifications for the engine or the safety air-bag of a new model, or a geologist estimating the likely severity of the next earthquake all are using, directly or indirectly, the principles of classical mechanics.
  2. The structure and development of classical mechanics is a good example of the aims and methods of science. You will see how experimental results and mathematical representations are combined to create testable scientific theories, and how the impossible complexities of most real-life physical situations can be reduced to soluble problems by identifying the essential physical features and ignoring the rest. This way of working is what distinguishes the scientific approach to situations from the many other ways of looking at them (e.g. artistic, political, business, etc.).
  3. Because the same basic principles can be used in a wide variety of different applications, the study of classical mechanics is an excellent introduction to the art of problem solving. By the end of the course you should be able to extract the essential features of a problem, use them to set up and solve the appropriate mathematical equations, and make quick and easy checks on your answer to catch simple mistakes.

The course will have succeeded in its aims if you come away from it with a grasp of the basic principles governing the motion of objects, a feel for the scientific method, and an understanding of the techniques of problem solving.

Course Format

This course combines the content of two key versions of Classical Mechanics taught at MIT and previously published on OCW: a "classroom lecture style" course and a "studio physics" course. The content of those two courses are still available in their original form:

  • Physics I with 35 video lectures by Professor Lewin, recorded on the MIT campus during the Fall of 1999.
  • Physics I as taught in the Studio Physics, or TEAL (Technology Enabled Active Learning), format

MIT students can expect to spend about 150 hours learning Classical Mechanics. That number comes from a combination of attending lectures, studying independently, and time spent in the lab. It’s difficult to estimate how long it will take you to complete all of the modules in this particular course because it’s never been taught at MIT in this format. But you can probably expect to spend an hour on practice problems, readings and assessment for each hour of video you watch.

Before You Begin this Course

Take a moment to familiarize yourself with all of the modules covered in this course. The course has been arranged in a linear progression through each of the topics of the course. On each module page you will find:

  • Learning Objectives: A brief statement of what you should understand by the time you have completed the module.
  • Course Notes: Read these in preparation for the lesson.
  • Textbook Reference: The textbook for this course is optional, but we have provided a suggested reading for those who wish to do so.
  • Lecture Video: Watch each relevant video clip from lectures taught by Prof. Walter Lewin
  • Class Slides: Look through these to get a better understanding of the concepts covered in the module
  • Concept Test: Test yourself to make sure you've learned the major concepts in the module.
  • Challenge Problems: Work through these difficult problems to make sure you really understand the material.
  • Homework Help Video: If you're struggling with the challenge problems, watch these videos with Prof. Walter Lewin to learn how to do similar problems.
  • Related Resources: If you are still struggling with the concepts presented, you might find these links to additional materials on the web useful.

Optional Textbook

Everything you need to complete this course is included on this site. However, if you would like to use a textbook in addition to the material provided, the following is recommended:

Buy at Amazon Sears and Zemansky's University Physics: with Modern Physics. 12th edition
Young, Hugh D., Roger A. Freedman, and A. Lewis Ford. San Francisco, CA: Addison Wesley, 2007. ISBN: 9780805321876.


Technical Requirements

This course includes functionality that does not display correctly in Internet Explorer. For best results, we recommend viewing this course with Firefox, Safari or Chrome.

Join a Study Group

MIT OpenCourseWare has teamed up with OpenStudy so you can quickly and easily connect with others working on this course. Through this site, you can find other students interested in Physics I: Classical Mechanics: work together on assignments, ask each other questions about the exams, or just discuss the topics of the course.

» Sign up now


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